“This year it has been incredible to see the growth of sports analytics both in breadth and depth” conference chair Jessica Gelman exclaimed to kick off the 2015 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Continuing as the preeminent sports industry conference, SSAC15 also grew in breadth and depth as it pushed out the limits of data analytics and sport, delivering two days of groundbreaking innovation and discussion. The conference welcomed three commissioners: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber, once again highlighting the growing acceptance of sports analytics.
The much anticipated 2015 conference brought together leading sports innovators, influencers and technologies at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center February 27-28. The ninth annual conference drew more than 3,200 attendees (a 50% growth from 2014), representing over 100 professional teams and 300 sports industry organizations. Featuring 29 panels and 15 Competitive Advantage presentations, the conference delved into themes for every fan and industry professional with topics ranging from early analytic adopters, player contract negotiations, entrepreneurship, sports betting, the future of sports media, the value of digital media for fan engagement, adapting and expanding the game for the modern fan and the future of sports analytics. Attendees enjoyed insights from Shane Battier and Sue Bird equating data analytics to another tool in their arsenal similar to a jump shot or strength training; Commissioner Silver, Jonathan Kraft and Marie Donoghue shared their unique vision on media rights and the ever-changing landscape of fan consumption; and SSAC veterans Brian Burke, Nate Silver, RC Buford and Scott Pioli got into heated discussions about how much to attribute the improvement of sports to analytics and how analytics will contribute to the future of sport over the next 5-10 years Other conference speakers included industry veterans such as Wyc Grousbeck, Sean Payton, Oliver Luck, Bob Myers, Jackie MacMullan and many more.
The SSAC research paper competition continued to remain at the forefront of sports analytics research and showcased some of the most exciting and cutting-edge developments in the theory and practice of sports analytics. Several teams of researchers and academics presented their findings to a panel of expert judges, who produced a split outcome, with two teams sharing the first-place prize. The first team, a group of statisticians at Harvard University, introduced “Counterpoints,” a framework for quantifying basketball players’ defensive contributions based on their ability to suppress and alter shots. The second team, a duo of analysts at Baseball Info Solutions, developed a method to quantify and more finely assign credit for pitch framing to catchers, batters, pitchers and umpires.
The conference featured two inaugural and fully interactive events: the Data Science and Visualization Zone presented by Booz Allen Hamilton and the SSAC Hackathon presented by ESPN’s Stats & Info Group. The Data Science and Visualization Zone included groundbreaking technological demos, conversation areas, and presentations. The SSAC Hackathon featured students from top universities competing for a coveted internship with ESPN as well as professionals from industry leading companies. Participants analyzed and presented innovative ways to visualize NFL data in order to improve the fan and media experience.
The conference continued to be a leading recruiting and hiring tool for the sports industry. Lines were out the door early Saturday morning for “Career Conversations” as students met 1-1 with sports business leaders to learn about roles in the sports industry, followed by a panel on breaking into the coveted industry.
SSAC 2015 built on the successes of previous years’ conferences and continued to pioneer the field of sports analytics. With its original content, invited speakers and showcase of advanced technological innovations, SSAC 2015 once again set the industry conference standard in sports analytics.